Question: What interests and intrigues all people—all the time?
Answer: It’s seeing themselves in a story or piece of news.
Every person enjoys picturing himself in a story, a tale, a news piece, or any kind of reading material—just as he enjoys seeing himself in a mirror. The best article for any website or publication (to generate “reader interest”) is to write a story in which every reader finds his or her “own name.”
Put the reader in the story
Picture this: In your mind’s eye you have a photograph in your hand. The photograph is of you and a group of all your readers. What do you think you and your readers would do when first noticing the photograph? Each reader—including you—would have fun trying to find him/herself in the picture.
Occasionally the newspapers or news websites publish a “bird’s eye view” photograph of a thousand individuals attending a festival, a sporting event or a ceremony. Each one of those individuals feels a special interest in and a special connection to that photograph. He shows the photograph to his family and close friends, and he devises ways to display it online—via Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest—so everyone in the world could see it.
Reader-Interest in Fiction and Non-Fiction
One factor why readers enjoy reading good fiction is that they can put themselves in the places of the many characters as the story unfolds. Readers wonder and ponder if they would have carried out the same actions the characters in the story did. Biographies and autobiographies are popular for the same reason: they offer the reader an opportunity to compare, contrast and examine his own life story with that of the person characterized in the book or article.
Reader-Interest in News Articles
Readers love news articles because the individual reader sees himself in the article. I do not mean that he sees his own name. I mean that he reads about events and circumstances happening to other people which could happen to him—thus, he keeps comparing himself with what he reads.
For instance, he reads a breaking news story about a woman who had fallen down an escalator in which she broke both of her arms. This incident happened at the local mall. The reader feels thankful that he himself had never endured such an incident. He also cautions his wife and children to be more careful about using an escalator at any mall. Furthermore, he is more careful himself!
Next, at a different website, he reads an article about a high school English teacher who had lost his job, house, and nearly all of his savings and retirement funds when the housing market collapsed and now lives in a downtrodden trailer park with his wife and four kids. The reader then meditates on his own financial situation with what he just read and wonders if his current debt might also change his life in a similar way.
Reader-Interest in Local News
Small local newspapers and news websites attract massive amounts of local readers comparative to the community they reach. The reason is clear—the local paper or website is personal to its readers. Its articles and feature stories are almost like personal letters from a family member. A large national newspaper that circulates all of the U.S., or a website that covers all of New York, has a harder time to get that close to its readers.
What’s In It for Me?
The reason why a lot of articles and stories are undesirable and never captivate a large reading audience is because the reader sees nothing in it for himself. For example, let’s say you live in the United States and spotted an article entitled “The Healthcare Laws in Canada.” It looks dull—perhaps pointless. It looks dull and pointless because you can’t quite see where or how it affects you.
Let’s say you noticed an article entitled “New U.S. Healthcare Laws Make Insurance More Affordable for All.” That’s different! The topic arouses your interest. You start to read the article to find out why and how.
The two articles may seem alike, contrasting only in treatment. One bores you and the other appeals to you. One bores you because it feels distant. The other appeals to you because the writer knew how to transpose his facts and thoughts into words that are personal and specific to you. Writing an article with personal appeal makes you a more interesting writer.
Don’t Bore Readers with Your Greatness
I remember attending a workshop called “Writing Effective Advertising Copy.” It was hosted by the executive creative director of a well-known ad agency. One critical point that he repeatedly emphasized was that many big-name advertisers talk too much about themselves in advertising and not enough about their end-users or consumers—the very people who would buy their products or services.
His critical point often embodies the difference between failure and success—not only in all kinds of business but also in politics, healthcare, journalism, finances, and relationships. The writer who is too lazy to apply his imagination to explore things from another person’s viewpoint simply cannot reach and influence a broad audience of people.
The Law of Service
Underneath all of this exists an idealistic law, which is known as the “law of service.” You can’t expect to interest and captivate people unless you do something for them. The businesswoman who has something to sell must have something useful to sell. She must always refer to it from the perspective of her potential buyers.
Likewise, the writer, the journalist, or the publicist must consider things from the perspective of those they need to reach and interest. The writer must feel the desires and concerns of others and then reach out and fulfill those needs. The writer can never build a large and loyal following of readers unless he gives something.
Listen to Your Readers
The same law applies to human relations. How we scorn the person who gossips only about himself—the person who never asks about our own worries, our own problems; the person with a big ego who never puts himself in our place. Words spill from his mouth, unimaginatively and unsympathetically. He rambles on and on, forging ahead on the only topics that interest and excite him—namely, himself. Listen to the other person—at least partially—if you want to grab his interest and give him something of value.